Southeast Asia tourism takes tumble

Source:AFP Published: 2020/2/16 21:33:41

Chinese travelers staying home amid coronavirus outbreak

Chinese tourists buy durian in Sabah, Malaysia. Malaysian fruit vendor Alan Tham (left) sells as much as 1,000 kilos of durian a day since starting to use Alipay. To attract Chinese tourists, Tham opened the service three months ago and saw 20-30 percent growth in business. Durians are distinctive for their strong odor. Photo:VCG

Southeast Asia is facing losses of billions of dollars from a collapse in Chinese tourism since the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus.

From Luang Prabang in northern Laos to Pattaya in Thailand, Hoi An in Vietnam and the Cambodian casino town of Sihanoukville, takings have plummeted as Chinese travelers find themselves subject to a host of restrictions at home and abroad.

"We haven't had any Chinese for 10 days since they closed the road from Yunnan," says Ong Tau, 47, from behind her stall of fruit shakes in the temple-studded Laotian colonial town of Luang Prabang.

"Business is down 20-30 percent ... it will get worse."

Tour guides, mall workers and restaurant staff are all feeling the burn as Chinese - the world's biggest travelers - stay at home in the middle of a global health crisis.

"My friend has lost four or five big tour groups ... they would have paid for his low season," said Tee, a guide in Luang Prabang, giving only one name in Laos, a mass of tuk-tuks standing idle behind him.

But in one of Southeast Asia's least well-resourced countries, there may be one bright side to the sudden economic pain.

The slump is being felt sharply in Thailand, where tourism authorities say arrivals from China - usually close to 1 million a month - have plunged by 90 percent so far this February.

At the Chang Siam Elephant Park in Pattaya, a few hours south of Bangkok, owner Nantakorn Phatnamrob fears he will soon be pressed into debt to float a business which has lost nearly $65,000 since the outbreak.

"People are afraid to visit," he said. "If it stays like this, I will have to get a loan from the bank."

Crocodile farms and tiger sanctuaries - controversial tourist beacons where visitors can pet the animals - are also deserted, leaving owners to feed expensive star attractions.

The outbreak has also spooked western tourists at the height of peak season in what has already been a tough period for Thai tourism thanks to a strong baht.

Thailand anticipates shedding 5 million tourists this year, taking with them "250 billion baht (over $8 billion) in ­revenue," according to Don ­Nakornthab, director of economic policy at Bank of Thailand.

"Our hopes that the economy will do better than last year are very low... it's possible it could grow below 2 percent," he added.

That will spell bad news for the untold number of Thais working in the tourism sector.

Ma Mya, 22, who sells trinkets in Pattaya, says she may soon have to return to her home in northern Thailand.

"There's no more profit - ­everything has gone bad."
Newspaper headline: SE Asia tourism takes tumble


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